As she reflected on the life of U.S. Representative John Lewis, longtime aide to Congressman Tuere Butler recalled a time when he used his words to broadcast a rocky situation involving a man who called the Lewis’s office.
The man, who was not from Georgia, was angry with a vote Lewis had taken on an issue in the US House of Representatives. He called the congressman’s office, yelled at Lewis’s staff, and they wrote down his phone number.
Staff were unsure if Lewis would want to speak to the man after he yelled at the staff on the phone.
“We said to the congressman, ‘This is what happened,’ and the congressman said, ‘well let’s call it back,’” said Butler. “And, so he called some of the staff in his office and put the gentleman on speaker, and the way he spoke with this gentleman who was very angry, disappointed and frustrated.”
“At the end of this conversation, it was like two old friends were talking.”
Sunday would have been Lewis’ 81st birthday, and Gwinnett officials commemorated the occasion with a two-and-a-half-hour event at the Gwinnett Justice and Administration Center called “The John Lewis Impact” on Monday morning. The event took place live, with only about 43 people in attendance due to COVID-19 restrictions, and was broadcast live on the county’s Facebook page.
After Lewis’ death last year, the county commission took action last year to declare his birthday as John Lewis Day in Gwinnett.
“We wanted to make sure we show the impact of everything he’s done because it goes beyond generations,” Gwinnett County Commissioner Marlene Fosque said after the event ended. “It’s multigenerational.”
There were video tributes to Lewis, performances of musical and oral poetry, and the presentation of a proclamation honoring the life of Lewis, which County Commission Chair Nicole Love Hendrickson presented to Butler.
His participation in the Freedom Rides, the Edmund Pettus Bridge Walk in Selma, Alabama, and the Washington, DC March were among the many lifelong accomplishments that were remembered by attendees.
Gwinnett, Newton and Rockdale Health Services Director Dr. Audrey Arona recalled Lewis’ memory as she spoke to attendees about the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and efforts to encourage people to come forward. get vaccinated against the disease.
“I know Congressman John Lewis would have stood up for this vaccine, and he would have worked to make sure everyone has equal access to this vaccine,” Arona said.
Fosque also led two panel discussions on Lewis’s impact at the event. The first featured Butler, where she told the story of Lewis and the phone call, as well as Hendrickson and US Rep. Carolyn Bourdeaux.
The second panel included former state representative Brenda Lopez Romero, Christian Church pastor of Berean Kevin Lee and Farooq Mughal.
Both panels focused on Lewis’ legacy and the work that remains to be done in the area of civil rights.
Bourdeaux said that in the 1950s and 1960s there was uncertainty about what the outcome of the efforts of peoples fighting for equal rights would be.
“When you are filled with the passion to change something, there will always be that uncertainty that will follow you throughout the process,” she said. “That’s why it’s so impressive what he has accomplished – his courage and persistence over time – and that’s really what you need to bring to a lot of our issues.
“Every once in a while we have a public problem, and you go out there and it’s solved easily, but so many times you just have to persist over and over again.”
Hendrickson said there were still “good issues,” as Lewis used to call him, to be done in some of the areas the congressman was trying to solve 60 years ago.
“It is about continuing to fight for racial and social justice and (to face) the inequalities that we continue to experience,” said the president. “While it’s not in your face, it manifests itself in so many different ways in our policies, in our behaviors, in zoning laws and restrictive access and undue justice.
“You know, we have to speak out against these injustices and I think that’s what the ‘good stuff’ is. It is about speaking out against injustices, whatever the cost, and not being afraid to do so because, in the end, it is about ensuring freedom.